You swore to yourself when you put those avocados in the bowl on the kitchen counter that you would eat them before they went bad. Then you went to the bathroom, came back seven minutes later, and the previously beautiful fruit had turned into desiccated, shriveled little leathery-skinned balls of rot.
You didn't make the rules of rot, you've just fallen victim to them. You and everybody else: about a third of all the food that shows up in U.S. grocery stores each year goes to waste — that's 1.3 billion tons (1.1 metric tons) annually. It's shameful.
But Apeel, a California-based company backed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others, has developed a vegetable-based powder that can be applied to the skin of fruits and vegetables to prevent them from spoiling so quickly. Because the introduction of oxygen is what allows bacteria to go crazy on the delicious insides of your pear or strawberry or pepper, Apeel is applied to the outside of produce directly after harvest to keep moisture inside and oxygen out. Shipped to farmers and suppliers as a powder, Apeel is mixed with water and sprayed on the surface of harvested produce, leaving behind a thin layer of tasteless plant material that naturally slows water loss and oxidation, which are the main causes of spoilage.
Fruits and vegetables are not without their own natural protection. The fruit of every plant has a natural barrier — the cuticle — that allows it to breathe while keeping moisture in. Apeel claims its product is colorless, flavorless and effective because it's made of the same substance as the natural cuticle — it's just an extra layer of protection. It has also been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Apeel says it can triple or even quadruple the shelf life of fruits and vegetables, which is a good prospect for curbing the unbelievable amount of food waste wealthy countries generate every day. It might also be instrumental in feeding people in countries that don't have the infrastructure to get fruits and vegetables to those who need them before they go bad. Worldwide, one in nine people go to bed on an empty stomach each night, and Apeel is hoping to help both increase the profit margins of produce companies selling their fruits and veggies in supermarkets, and also make produce last longer in places where food is scarce.